Monday, February 24, 2014

ARC Review: The Red Sheet by Mia Kerick

The Red Sheet - Mia Kerick
From the blurb:

One October morning, high school junior Bryan Dennison wakes up a different person—helpful, generous, and chivalrous—a person whose new admirable qualities he doesn’t recognize. Stranger still is the urge to tie a red sheet around his neck like a cape.

Bryan soon realizes this compulsion to wear a red cape is accompanied by more unusual behavior. He can’t hold back from retrieving kittens from tall trees, helping little old ladies cross busy streets, and defending innocence anywhere he finds it.

Shockingly, at school, he realizes he used to be a bully. He’s attracted to the former victim of his bullying, Scott Beckett, though he has no memory of Scott from before “the change.” Where he’d been lazy in academics, overly aggressive in sports, and socially insecure, he’s a new person. And although he can recall behaving egotistically, he cannot remember his motivations.

Everyone, from his mother to his teachers to his “superjock” former pals, is shocked by his dramatic transformation. However, Scott Beckett is not impressed by Bryan’s newfound virtue. And convincing Scott he’s genuinely changed and improved, hopefully gaining Scott’s trust and maybe even his love, becomes Bryan’s obsession.

Sandra's rating:

Immediately after finishing:

Okay, so I'm now full on bawling my eyes out because this book. THIS BOOK!!!

Mia, your words touched me in a way I didn't anticipate or even expect, and I'm bowled over.

Actual review:

I want you to take a good look at that quote below. Because this book is about courage. It's about the courage to stand up for what you believe in, but also about the courage to trust. To move beyond your fears and to, as Mandela said, conquer that fear.

It's about a young man who wakes up one morning feeling like a super hero. Like wanting to tie a red sheet around his neck and be Superman. Rescue the cat stuck in the tree, help his neighbor move the trashcans to the end of the drive. Thank his mother for making his breakfast.

It's about another young man who wakes up that same morning with a memory of a betrayal by the one he loves. In pain and fear and so much hurt. And while we only get to see this young man through the eyes of another, I knew that pain. I'd felt that pain.

It's about bullying and what it does to the victims. It's about standing by when someone is being bullied and not doing a damn thing to stop it. It's about your own fears of being different, of not fitting in, of standing out.

Bryan learns some serious lessons in this book. He not only learns what he did to the one he loves, but also gets to experience the pain of his victim for himself. Bryan learns that forgiveness can't be asked for, that actions mean more than words, and that love is worth fighting for. He learns that those whom he disregarded are those who'd stand by him in his time of need.

I really liked the voice of this boy. It rang true and realistic (other than the overnight personality change, perhaps), and it was often unwittingly humorous, as he fumbles his way through his new reality and opens his eyes to the real world for the first time. He also angered me with his pushiness and hell may care attitude, and I cried hot tears when that which he has suppressed from his memories comes flooding back, and we see the depth of the betrayal he put upon the one he loves. Yeah, he pissed me right off. He's not perfect, and he knows it, but he tries. Oh, how he tries to make amends and do the right thing.

I could also see that he was sincerely sorry. That he had remorse. That he began to be patient and kind and generous and inclusive of those he had previously disregarded or ignored. His apologies rang true, not only the ones Bryan made to Scott, but also those to his mother and others.

I had a long discussion today with someone about the tropes that we see employed in M/M YA fiction, especially those that deal with bullying of the LGTBQ community, young men and women trying to figure out who they are. And while I agreed on a lot of the points my friend made, I couldn't agree that it applies to this book.

Mia Kerick's message is not one of forgiveness. Mia's message is not that a bully should be excused or granted forgiveness just because he changed the error of his ways. Mia's message is about strength of conviction. It's about courage. Especially courage.

Not only the courage that Bryan shows when he stands up to his former friends and teammates, but Scott's courage in finding the strength to trust again, and in David's courage to stand up for Bryan against the homophobic classmate and offer "to have his back". It's the courage to stand back up when you've been knocked down, to hold your head high, to reach out to others for help when you need it, and to know that you can't do it alone.

Yes, it's written in its entirety from the POV of Bryan, the boy who bullied and who betrayed, but I believed him when he said that he was sorry. Repeatedly. And then backed up his words with actions.

My personal experiences with bullying certainly affected my views on this book. While I'm white and straight, and cannot speak to what it feels like to be bullied for the color of your skin or your sexual orientation, I do know what it's like to be harassed and tormented for who you are, for things you cannot change. And while I cannot claim to have experienced the fear and anger that Scott experienced in this book, I do have an inkling of what it's like to be and feel different, and being bullied for it. The memories of it don't go away. As the foreword says quite clearly, victims of bullying don't get over it. They learn to live with it, absorb it, and try each day to move forward one more step. They struggle and they fall, but they get back up and keep moving.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but conquering that fear. Triumphing over your fear. At the end of the book, Bryan and Scott both learned that. It's a lesson that everyone should learn.

** I received a free ARC from the publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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